Recent Commonplace Entries


“I had a conversation with Eric Hobsbawm just before he died, and he said that the most civilized countries to live under, with the best guarantee of freedom in the world, were constitutional monarchies.” (Robert Harris, in the Spectator, 17-31 December, 2022)

“For all its propensity to violence, Russia has made decisive contributions to the global equilibrium and to the balance of power for over half a millennium. Its historical role should not be degraded.” (Henry Kissinger, in the Spectator, 17-31 December, 2022)

“The last joke he told me, only a week or two before his death, concerned a couple walking down the street when they spot someone across the road. ‘Isn’t that the archbishop of Canterbury?’ says the wife. ‘Is it?’ says her husband. ‘Go and ask him,’ she says. So the man goes over, apologises for troubling him and asks: ‘Aren’t you the archbishop of Canterbury?’ ‘Bugger off.’ He returns to his wife. ‘What did he say?’ ‘He said: “Bugger off.”’ ‘What a shame,’ says the wife. ‘Now we shall never know.’”  (Alan Bennett on Barry Cryer, from LRB, January 5)

“All good historical work is at heart ‘revisionist’ in that it uses new findings from the archives or new perspectives from historians to improve, to perfect — and yes, to revise — our understanding of the past.” (from  Myth America: Historians Take On the Biggest Legends and Lies About Our Past, a collection published this month and edited by Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer, historians at Princeton, quoted by Carlos Lozada in NYT, January 8)

“The truth is that by the time a person becomes conscious there is such a thing as a ‘working class,’ he has already lost touch with it and has ceased to be a credible authority on its characteristics.” (Paul Johnson, in 1990, according to his NYT obituary, January 13)

“New prisoners are largely of two kinds – there are those who for shame, fear or shock wait in fascinated horror to be initiated into the lore of prison life, and there are those who trade on their wretched novelty in order to endear themselves to the community.” (from Chapter 6 of John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In From the Cold)

“And finally, they would know it was a gamble. They would know that inconsistency in human decision can make nonsense of the best-planned espionage approach; that cheats, liars and criminals may resist every blandishment while respectable gentlemen have been moved to appalling treason by watery cabbage in a departmental canteen.” (from Chapter 7 of John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In From the Cold)

“In itself, the practice of deception is not particularly exacting; it is a matter of experience, of professional expertise, it is a facility most of us can acquire. But while a confidence-trickster, a pay-actor or a gambler can return from his performance to the ranks of his admirers, the secret agent enjoys no such relief. For him, deception is first a matter of self-defence. He must protect himself not only from without but from within, and against the most natural of impulses; though he earn a fortune, his role may forbid him the purchase of a razor, though he be erudite, it can befall him to mumble nothing but banalities; though he be an affectionate husband and father, he must under all circumstances withhold himself from those to whom he should naturally confide.” (from Chapter 13 of John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In From the Cold)

“It’s implausible to expect scholars with insecure jobs to offer bold and innovative claims about history when they can easily be fired for doing so. Instead, history will be studied increasingly by the wealthy, which is to say those able to work without pay.” (Daniel Bessner, in NYT, January 15)

“She was no fool, either. When the 1930s smart set were treating Hitler’s rise as a joke, or, in the case of two Mitford sisters, Unity and Diana, a glamorous gimmick, this Scottish pragmatist picked up an unexpurgated translation of Mein Kampf on board ship, read it and started sending copies and notes to friends urging them to take more seriously his terrible “mentality, ignorance and obvious sincerity”. This hardened her attitude to the collaboration-minded Duke of Windsor, and to Wallis.” (Libby Purves, in review of Gareth Russell’s Do Let’s Have Another Drink, a biography of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, in TLS, January 6)

“Salman Rushdie, for this reason, insists that without freedom of expression there cannot be freedom of thought at all: ‘The moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.’ His rule of thumb? ‘You never personalize, but you have absolutely no respect for people’s opinions.’ And by ‘no respect’ he means the highest respect: a true desire to participate collectively in reaching the goal of truth.”  (N. J. Enfield, in review of Susie Alegre’s Freedom to Think, in TLS. January 13)

“Speaking of ‘unwoke’ encyclopedia entries (January 6), may I refer your readers to the entry on the ‘British Empire’ in the 1911 edition of Britannica, which proffers this disclaimer in its opening paragraph: ‘The term “empire” is in this connexion obviously used rather for convenience than in any sense equivalent to that of the older or despotic empires of history.’” (letter from Edward Moran in TLS, January 20)

“The Cold War began with the Polish monitoring of Russian communications in 1944.” (Dermot Turing, in XYZ: The Real Story of How Enigma Was Broken, p 268)

3 Responses to Recent Commonplace Entries

  1. Pingback: On Privacy and Publicity | Coldspur

  2. Michael

    Not sure where to find on the map “his . . . redbrick house at Purely with its back-garden tennis-court”. Just south of Corydon, perhaps? And a few other typos this month, which are I believe abhorred by you.

    • coldspur

      Thank you, Michael. That damned autocorrect feature, I am sure. I have rebuked my Chief Editor, Thelma. But I am responsible: the buck stops here.

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